Why is the metronome important, and how should students start practicing with the metronome? In today's post, I will be sharing some of my best tips for successfully introducing the metronome to your students--as well as a few alternatives to traditional metronome practice!
Read on for more "Metronome 101..."
Why do music teachers make such a big deal about the metronome, anyway? There are a few reasons that practicing with the metronome can be beneficial:
1. Playing with a steady beat. Of course, the metronome can be a powerful tool for helping students to hear and reproduce a steady beat. Some students naturally have a strong inner pulse, while others...don't. Listening and moving to the beat of the metronome can help these students to internalize the feel of a steady beat.
2. Playing at an appropriate tempo. Do you have students that think the faster they can play, the better? How about students that play every piece at "turtle" speed? Practicing with the metronome can help students to hear right away if they are playing a piece at the appropriate tempo. It can also help students to get a feel for the difference between standard tempo markings such as allegro, moderato, andante, etc.
3. As a practice aid. Metronomes can also be helpful for a variety of practice situations. For example:
- Metronomes can help students to gradually build speed as they work on tricky passages.
- They can help students remember not to pause as they are sight-reading a new piece.
- They can approximate the feel of playing in an ensemble as students prepare duets or accompaniment parts.
5 Tips for introducing the metronome
Despite the many benefits of metronome practice, the metronome often gets a bad rap. But the metronome doesn't have to be scary! Here are my top 5 tips for making the introduction to the metronome as painless as possible!
1. Start by moving to the beat of the metronome away from the piano first.
A fun way to introduce the metronome is to first have students practice marching to a steady metronome beat. This can also help students to feel the difference between a "largo" beat and an "allegro" beat. Once students can comfortably march to the beat, try clapping quarter notes, half notes, or simple rhythmic patterns to the beat of the metronome.
2. Next, play simple rote patterns (like 5-finger scales) with the metronome.
When using the metronome at the piano for the first time, it can be helpful to start with simple rote patterns, like five-finger scales played in quarter notes or half notes. Since these patterns don't require any reading, students can focus solely on matching the beat of the metronome.
3. Add a visual component.
For students that struggle with hearing and matching the beat of the metronome, adding a visual component can be very helpful! My digital metronome has a blinking light, which many students find helpful for "seeing" the beat. You can also find metronome apps that replicate the swinging pendulum of a wind-up metronome.
4. Choose simple pieces for a student's first metronome practice at the piano.
Once you have tried all of the steps above, it is time to practice a piece with the metronome! Start with a simple piece that your student can already play well and challenge them to play the entire piece with the metronome. Start at a slow tempo, then have students experiment with different metronome markings. Have fun experimenting!
5. Be sure to pick a specific, achievable metronome marking and practice goal for students using the metronome at home.
Once students are ready to practice a piece in progress with the metronome, don't forget to help them choose a specific tempo and set an achievable practice goal. This can help to prevent frustration when students are learning how to practice with the metronome independently.
A few examples of specific assignments:
- Clap the melody in measures 1-8 with the metronome set at 60.
- Practice the left hand alone in measures 16-20 with the metronome set at 80.
- Practice measures 1-4 with both hands, first at 60, then 66, then 72.
Alternatives to the metronome
Sometimes, your student just might not "click" with the metronome (pun intended!). Luckily, there are other options for helping your student to reap many of the same benefits as metronome practice:
1. Play duets together.
Playing duets as often as possible is a great way to help students develop a strong inner pulse. It also encourages students to play without pausing, just like when using the metronome.
2. Use backing tracks.
Lots of method and supplemental books these days come with optional backing tracks, and these can be a sneaky way to get your "anti-metronome" students practicing with a steady beat!
Curious about backing tracks but not sure how to get started with them? Check out my "Backing Track 101" blog posts HERE and HERE.
3. Use a drum machine.
Make even the most metronome-averse student feel like a rock star by using a drum machine instead of a traditional metronome! One I have used with my students is the "SuperMetronome Groovebox" app--it is lots of fun and has a variety of drum beats you can choose from.
Even easier, if your student has a digital piano at home, have them practice with the rhythm sounds on their piano instead of the metronome. Just be sure that they know how to adjust the tempo to prevent frustration when they are practicing.
What do you think? How and when do you introduce the metronome to your students? What are your tips for making the experience easier? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!